Red tide can cause severe symptoms in some people with underlying respiratory issues.
TAMPA, Florida – The red tide is affecting many beautiful waterways in the Tampa Bay area, causing Dead Sea life to wash up on shore. In addition to being incredibly smelly, algae blooms can have negative effects on your health when you’re near them.
Red tide is a harmful algal bloom, or HAB, that is created when sea plants grow out of control and release harmful toxins. These toxins can have negative effects on people, marine mammals, birds, fish and shellfish.
In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species responsible for the most red tides is called Karenia brevis, and is often abbreviated to K. brevis.
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The Florida Department of Health says most people can swim in red tide waters, but note that this may be uncomfortable and irritating for some. High levels of bacteria can cause itchy skin and increase the risk of urinary tract infections. Dr. Michael Alvarez, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at BayCare, says you probably shouldn’t swim in red tide waters and should avoid areas with high concentrations.
“It can give you coughing, sneezing, watery eyes,” Dr. Alvarez explained. He says the symptoms associated with exposure to red tide can be particularly uncomfortable for people with underlying health conditions, such as COPD or asthma.
Most people only experience symptoms during exposure to the beach or near affected waterways, but disappear a few hours after leaving the area.
“Over time, I don’t think there will be any long-term chronic adverse effects. It’s while you’re in the situation, near water,” Dr. Alvarez said.
If you have persistent and long-lasting symptoms from your exposure to red tide, you should seek medical attention. They may prescribe an antihistamine or an inhaler.
If you cannot avoid being near red tides because you live or work in the area, you should wear a mask, such as those worn to protect you from COVID-19. “The particle size of breva toxin is the same as respiratory droplets, so a regular face mask will help you avoid transmission and lessen these symptoms,” Dr. Alvarez said.
If you are swimming in water with worrying red tide levels, you should avoid putting your head underwater and getting it in your eyes. After swimming, you should rinse with cool, clean water as soon as possible.